By Gabriel Neeb
Five creators currently working in the horror film genre sat together for a spirited discussion about horror films in the panel ‘Bold Voices of Contemporary Horror’ moderated by Los Angeles Times critic Jen Yamato at the San Diego Comic Convention.
The panel included Ryan Turek (Vice President of Development at Blumhouse Productions), Mali Elfman (producer of BEFORE I WAKE and THE ASHRAM), Dave Kajganich (writer of the new SUSPIRIA), Rusty Candieff (director of TALES FROM THE HOOD) and Anouk Whissell (director of SUMMER OF 84).
Yamato began the panel by asking what horror meant to each of the participants. For Whissell, her interest began early with a viewing of Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS and as she got older, she started to understand that horror films ‘allow you to get scared.’
Rusty Candieff was fascinated by the things you were not supposed to see. His family would let him watch episodes of the New York City show, Chiller Theater, which would really scare him. He also had a father that took him to see THE EXORCIST in an early theatrical run for unknown reasons.
Dave Kajganich came to horror as a result of two life circumstances: cable TV was just beginning and he was living in a rural area which was not receptive to young, gay man. Being able to watch horror gave him a outlet to look at things and characters to relate to.
Mali Elfman was a naturally curious child in a family that collected shrunken heads and other taxidermy artifacts. She related a story about a skeleton her family displayed above a door… which she once yelled at to get it to play with the other skeletons. She also lived in a haunted house but didn’t discuss the matter further.
Ryan Turek was a comics kid who happened across some drawings done by Bernie Wrightson which were in a copy of CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF by Stephen King. He soon found the magazine Fangoria (#90 about the remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). His wayward childhood continued as he loved the reaction of classmates to his reading of multiple Stephen King novel. After that, “I wanted to make horror films for the rest of my life.”
The next topic was about how each of the creators saw themselves in a horror market that thrives on nostalgia but also values original work. Elfman found it exciting since innovation is seeing more support and personal projects get a lot more interest than previous years.
Turek responded by describing how, while working for Fangoria, he was on the edge of exposure to horror “eras” and that today’s creative environment was defying easy categorization, if it could be categorized at all. On one hand there are shows like THE TERROR and on the other, films like HEREDITARY. There are no trends that fit neatly into descriptive boxes. Today is almost like the early 1990s of a creative free for all (which gave the world CANDYMAN, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, and DR. GIGGLES).
Kajganich spoke, as showrunner of THE TERROR, of the demands of a long form narrative. Where an audience of a horror film has developed certain unacknoweldged expectations, his challenge is keep an audience invested for ten to fifteen hours.
Rusty Candieff is returning to his 1995 film for a second TALES FROM THE HOOD. He found that everything from the first movie was still relevant. Unfortunately. He also spoke of the nature of anthology films where some of his stories are funny and others were deeply sad- in the space of a 100 minute movie.
Whissell was presented with a unique challenge when making SUMMER OF 84 where she was directing Millenial age actors to act like teens from the 1980s. It was fun, but also strange.
The panel then paused to watch a brief clip from the upcoming film MANDY with Nicolas Cage. The guest next to me was moved by the presence of music by the late Johann Johannssen. The clip was intriguing and mad, as early reviews of the film indicate.
Yamato then stated that the industry is of two minds on horror. One that encourages original work, and one that is heavily invested in large scale franchises. She wanted to know how this affects projects going forward.
Ryan Turek, of Blumhouse,said that “homes” for films have emerged. A24 for instance serves as a home for things like HEREDITARY and THE WITCH and older studios like Ghost House and Dark Castle are reemerging to make films. Blumhouse is fighting against the “all summer” trend of studios releasing large scale movie all year round. They want to get people away from the couch, and into the theater.
Elfman has begun work on the Fun Size Horror project in attempt to get new, innovative ideas on the screen. She saw much of current society under represented, and Fun Size shorts are an attempt to increase the profiles and prospectives.
Kajganich was asked about SUSPIRIA. He didn’t reveal much, but he described a recent work schedule where he’d have to alternate between the heavily male cast of THE TERROR with the heavily female cast of SUSPIRIA.
The SUSPIRIA trailer was played and enthusiastically received by the audience (as an aside, this is the first place in the convention where SUSPIRIA was even mentioned- there’s no promotion of it here). One of the panel members said, “It’s like CENTERSTAGE 2!”
Yamato asked Rusty Candieff if the studios were pushing a social consciousness in films.
When doing the original TALES FROM THE HOOD, the studio was not receptive to social issues raised in the film and that it hurt the release of the movie. He has gotten a lot of hate for not sticking to “genre conventions.”
Turek interjected that people that want politics out of horror drive him nuts since so much horror IS political citing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as a prime example.
Candieff said that people are uncomfortable with this stuff but you need the discussion. This will promote. This goes back to his grounding in the films of the 1970s.
“The real stuff happens in horror.” The popular superhero films of today don’t confront the reality of life. The people in the cemetery aren’t the threat. It’s the real people that mess you up.
For Elfman, if some people aren’t pissed off, you haven’t gone far enough.
The panel ended with the entrance of Anouk Whissell’s directorial collaborators Francois Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell (the collaboration known as RKSS) to introduce a scene from SUMMER OF 84 where “Real people are scarier than ghosts.”
The panel ended with a trivia contest for a signed HALLOWEEN poster.
What is Michael Myers middle name?